At the weekend we saw the spectacle of the world’s greatest one-day race, Paris-Roubaix – a sort of perverse celebration of France’s worst roads. Many sections are no more than crudely cobbled farm tracks, with only the strongest rides able to negotiate them with speed. Despite being one of the most highly prized addition to a rider’s palmarès, the race is equally revered and reviled by even the toughest men of the sport – Bernard Hinault called Paris-Roubaix “plain-stupid”. Many simply stay away completely.
Back on the roads of Surrey and racing has developed a whiff of the ‘Hell of the North’. Ordinarily, life in the bunch isn’t so tough; gliding along at a steady rhythm, being sucked along in the slipstream of the guys up front. But throw into the equation the wide deep potholes caused by our recent bitter winter, and the story changes. Any rider without a clear view of the road ahead encounters sudden obstacles – made no easier by the riders around them; the swerving, the evasive action, braking, hopping. The smooth shoal of the peloton becomes chaotic and staccato.
Positioning in the bunch has taken on a greater importance this season. You can expend far too much energy mid-bunch slowing, then accelerating, hitting holes with gritted teeth and crossed fingers. But there are gains to be made for those canny enough, either installing themselves firmly near the front, or for those even braver, taking their chances in a small breakaway group able to navigate through the obstacles at greater speed and fluidity.
In addition to the bone rattling, it feels as if money is literally being shaken out of my pockets. The pitted roads of Surrey have been gradually bumping my bike to pieces – spokes are loose, rims are crooked and bearings are shot. Just this last week potholes have claimed a bottle cage and my bike computer (its innards knocked loose and now rattling around inside). In some ways I’ve been let off lightly having raced so far without puncturing or having all my teeth shaken out of my head. Others have been less fortunate, as the long list of DNFs on each result sheet shows.
Let’s hope that as the winter disappears and the sun emerges, we’ll see some cleaning up of the roads this spring. I am definitely not made in the mould of Fabian Cancellara – my delicate body appreciates a bit of velvety smooth beneath its bottom.
EDIT The Tour of the Milbury’s has been cancelled due to poor road surfaces. Read the story on the British Cycling website here.
EDIT 2 If you spot a pothole that needs repairing, register it on www.fillthathole.org.uk. Fingers crossed the relevant local council will get around to mending it. Eventually.